Question

We are considering a 10,000 sq ft steel building as a childcare center in WV. Is it worth going solar?

Asked by Leighton Duncan
Martinsburg, WV

The center will have 120 to 150 children at any given time, plus 20 to 30 teachers.

Answer

Leighton,

Yes, it is worth going solar, but proper design measures must be taken to ensure that the system will be functioning at its optimum performance.

To begin on your project, you must first analyze the building's structural integrity. Most “all-steel” buildings are pre-engineered and meet the minimum requirements of the code for deflection. What this means is that the building, under both lateral (sideways) loads and vertical load, will move to the maximum allowable distance by code before failure. This deflection will limit your choices in roof-mounted photovoltaic panels or require you to install a ground-mounted system.

Here are some of the differences between these systems.

Roof-mounted photovoltaic

Thin-film amorphous photovoltaic panel will be the most cost-effective approach. The cost for a single panel ranges from $168 to upwards of $400. The cost is a direct result of the size of the panel and its DC gross power production.

This type of panel can be adhered directly to the metal roof panel as long as it is not ribbed or has a clear width of 15.5” between the ribs. (If neither of these conditions are favorable, you will need to look into a ground-mounted system.) These panels produce less energy in a short duration of time, but over their lives will produce as much or more energy than a multi-crystalline panel.

Ground-mounted photovoltaic

This installation method is the most costly and unless you are installing a large field of panels is usually not cost efficient. The additional costs associated with this type of installation are due to additional construction required, such as foundations, trenching and bearing of wires and larger wire gauge due to farther distance from building.

Solar hot water heating

If you are considering the use of a solar hot water collector, some of the same considerations of building structure must be reviewed and analyzed. However, solar hot water presents an increased localized load due to the amount of water stored or flowing through the collector under use. Again, if maximum defection is reached, you may experience failure in the collector or at the points of penetration through the roof for piping, resulting in water infiltration into the building.

Tagged In: solar electric

Do you have a question about greening your home? GreenHomeGuide invites you to Ask A Pro. Let our network of experienced green building professionals – architects, designers, contractors, electricians, energy experts, landscapers, tile & stone specialists, and more – help you find the right solution.